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Grow your own fruit for breakfast

A lemon tree can be a lovely patio or garden addition. (SUPPLIED)

By Kate Copsey

There is something exotic about being able to walk into the garden and pick a fresh orange. That is just one of the great advantages of living in a climate like the UAE.

With its appealing shape, fragrant blossoms and edible fruit, a citrus such as an orange, grapefruit or lemon tree can enhance many sites receiving an abundance of direct sunlight.

Oranges, and all the other citrus trees need frost free growing conditions, although some enjoy cool nights, and all contain valuable vitamins and nutrients that make them a favourite.

Almost all the citrus fruits can be grown from seed, but the exact fruit you end up with can have different characteristics from the original.

Dr Chiranjit Parmar author of www.Fruitipedia.com, an online resource for Middle East fruit, says: "A hobbyist does not usually have the patience to wait for years. The exact number of years that it takes for the first fruit to form varies but for some fruits it can be eight to 10 years, so you may want to start with a nursery grown tree that produces quickly."

The ultimate size of the tree will be determined by the root stock, which can produce dwarf forms for patio pots, or larger forms for landscape use. Look for dwarf citrus in the garden centre, which grow to about three foot and full size trees, which grow to 15 or 20ft.

Citrus does respond well to pruning, which can keep the tree reasonable for smaller properties, and they can even be pruned into neat standard forms if required.

The trees that you get at the nursery may be cloned, which will be seen on the label. If the label gives a named variety of orange then it will be a clone and you can be assured that the Navel Orange, Key Lime or other citrus will conform to the expected type.

Additionally, grafted trees will often produce in a matter of a year or two, which is much more rewarding than waiting almost a decade for a seed sown tree to produce.

The trees benefit from fertilising each spring, or just before the very fragrant flowers develop. A general all round fertiliser is sufficient for most soils. Citrus is very sensitive to pesticides, so caution should be used, and aim for the lowest toxicity treatment possible if you need to use chemicals.

If you are growing the plants in a container, ensure it is large enough to give the citrus room to grow and whatever shape you choose, make sure it has holes in the bottom for drainage.

Partly fill the container with potting soil, place your tree in the centre and continue adding soil until it is at the level at which the tree was originally planted, no higher. There should be a gap of a few inches between the surface of the soil and the lip of the container allowing you to water without overflow. If you like, you can add a layer of bark on top of the soil. As the plants grow ensure you replant them in bigger pots or in the garden.

Do not overwater these trees and when doing so water slowly until the soil is moist but not soggy.

The fruit then takes anywhere from six to 18 months to ripen. The fruit ripens over months rather than days and you will not be inundated with a tree full of oranges all ripening together.

Oranges come in various forms and some of those traits will depend on the growing conditions. Popular blood oranges with sweet red flesh will develop better in areas where they get cooler nights.

The most common commercial lime is the Persian, which has a deep green skin and is oval in shape. Key Limes will bear fruit at three years, which makes them very appealing to a gardener.

The Meyer Lemon is suitable for patios and produces large, sweet lemons.

Caring tips

- All citruses require lots of sunlight to grow properly

- The container must be large enough to give the citrus room to grow

- Avoid subjecting your citrus to lengthy periods of full shade

- Don't overwater the plants. A good rule of thumb is to allow the first inch of soil to dry between waterings

- A good citrus-specific fertiliser should be used from time to time, but do not over fertilise